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Starting XI: Sunderland’s worst ever January signings - which of our former flops make the team?

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With the transfer window almost upon us, Graham MacMillan-Mason looks back at some of the worst business Sunderland have done during January over the years - here’s who makes his team.

Sunderland v Birmingham - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

GK: Lee Camp

We start with the worst January signing of all time - brought in by Chris Coleman at the beginning of the new year, Lee Camp did the impossible and made Jason Steele look like a competent goalie. With his scraggly hair, weird little man-bun and arms made of sponge, there were times when he’d make mistakes so bad that you just had to laugh.

Birmingham’s bizarre decision to make him their number one this year on the back of his horrendous, relegation-addled spell on Wearside is one that has to rank alongside casting George Clooney as Batman.

Lee Camp was utterly rank, but the important thing is that we learned a lesson.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Premier League
ARRRRRRRRRRGH.
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

RB: Tal Ben-Haim

Tal Ben Haim: a veteran of the Sam Allardyce squad that took little-old Bolton Wanderers into uncharted European waters; the cornerstone of the new look Manchester City; and a man once signed by Jose Mourinho... you’d think the Israeli was a sure-fire bargain as he came in on loan whilst we were under the management of Ricky Sbragia.

But, alas... Tal was really, really sh*t.

On arrival, Sbragia remarked that he’d “worked with him previously” and thus “knew what he was getting” - maybe take a delve into the unknown next time, eh Rick?

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Premier League
As far as defenders go, this is one signing we should have stayed right back from - get it?
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

CB: Sotirios Kyrgiakos

It was probably worth signing him just for the sheer hilarity at hearing yer auld da try to pronounce his name - but the novelty soon wore off as we witnessed the big Greek defender trying (and failing) to keep up with speed-merchant Nikica Jelavic during our ill-fated FA Cup quarter final with Everton in 2012.

When we needed defensive reinforcements, Martin O’Neill took a stab in the dark based on the fact he was a half-decent squad player for Liverpool a few years earlier and it just didn’t pay off.

Blackburn Rovers v Sunderland - Premier League
Utter poop.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

CB: Kader Mangane

“He played when we beat the Mags!” I hear you cry, and yes, I hear you loud and clear, but beating Newcastle is no yard stick - the majority of our squad over the past decade has played some part in achieving that feat, so you’re not getting out of this one Kader!

Like Kyrgiakos before him, Mangane was signed when we needed reinforcements in defence, yet the fact he barely featured and arrived from an obscure league tells us that he was probably signed without any real thought going into the decision.

“What am I doing?”
The Chronicle

LB: Joleon Lescott

Yes... I’m aware he played (in his brief cameo appearances) at centre half for Sunderland, but earlier in his career he was a left back for a while so... anyways, why am I explaining myself? These are my rules! Ahem.

Joleon Lescott then... injured, unattached, old.. you can see why you’d give a £30k-a-week contract to this man, right? Particularly when you don’t really need him, are skint, are dropping faster than a stone and have absolutely no intention of ever playing him unless you’ve got a gun to your head.

David Moyes made some truly bizarre decision during his ill-fated stint in charge at Sunderland, but this has to be up there as one of the worst.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
“30k a week mate, honestly. Big Dave has lost it hahaha!”
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

RM: Rory Delap

With all due respect to Rory Delap, when you’re sitting about 100 points from safety and facing relegation with the lowest ever points tally, your hope isn’t going to be renewed by the signing of an ageing utility man.

Other than a fairly decent goal that earned us a point at Goodison Park, the Republic of Ireland international was a rank-average signing and his performances on the pitch were, rather expectantly, bog standard.

A casualty of Roy Keane’s 2006 clear-out, he was gone before he’d even truly arrived. If only someone had worked out he was good at throw ins...

Stoke City v Sunderland
In need of help against relegation? For an instant fix call Rory Delap!
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

CM: Ovie Ejaria

We know he’s still a young boy and, in fairness to him, the Liverpool midfielder has done alright on loan at Rangers this season, but his stint at the Stadium of Light last season was incredibly poor and he ultimately failed to live up to the ‘English Pogba’ tag that he arrived with.

Whilst you can’t solely lay the blame for our poor performances at the door of a 19-year-old loanee learning his trade, the combination of a high pressure battle against a second relegation and a complete lack of experience meant Ovie looked like a deer in the headlights, and he went missing most weeks.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Deer in the headlights?
Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

CM: Darron Gibson

I mean... where do we begin? Getting smashed after losing 5-0 at home before having a confrontation with an angry fan, all while being filmed? Maybe the drink-driving before a game? Perhaps just being really naff at football?

The less said about Darron Gibson the better, really. Let’s just agree that when you sign players with his attitude, don’t be surprised when you suffer as a club on and off the pitch.

He slots in alongside his old teammate Ejaria in the centre of the park - a pairing that, on paper, really should have worked but ultimately didn’t.

Sunderland v West Ham United - Premier League
A picture that sums up Darron Gibson’s time at the club.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

LM: Kevin Cooper

The 2003/04 squad is one of the most intriguing, random lists of footballers you’re ever likely to come across in Sunderland’s history, yet we still somehow managed to finish third and reach an FA Cup semi-final - it’d be fair to say that Mick McCarthy did some job.

Kevin Cooper came in on loan from Wolves and actually had a decent pedigree at Championship level, but in his one appearance away to Millwall he looked woefully out of his depth and was soon sent back to the Molineux within weeks.

Just for the sheer randomness of this loan deal and the fact he barely kicked a ball, he has to feature in this side - forming an utterly terrible left-hand partnership with Joleon Lescott.

Sunderland v Norwich City
Kevin Cooper ended up gaining promotion with Norwich in the same season. Wtf?
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

CF: Rade Prica

Hitting 28 goals in any league is no mean feat, yet Roy Keane’s signing Swedish international Rade Prica still felt like a bit of a gamble - even at just £2m.

Having had an absolute stormer on his Stadium of Light debut, little old Rade’s Sunderland career folded almost instantly as he suffered the embarrassment of being subbed on an Anfield, only to be subbed off shortly afterwards.

After just six substitutes appearances and a handful of ignominious reserve outings, he moved back to Scandinavia where he suddenly remembered how to play professional football. Go figure.

Sunderland v Birmingham - Premier League
The forward line of dreams - Rade Price and Daryl Murphy.
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

CF: Danny Graham

The most expensive January signing on the list at £5m (weeps) - the purchase of Danny Graham was the beginning of the end for manager Martin O’Neill, clear evidence of the sheer neglect our club was shown by former owner Ellis Short.

Graham was oddly likable, but his ability to work hard was not the reason big money was shelled out on him. Fair enough, his deflected goal at Goodison Park sparked unbelievable scenes and is rightly remembered as one of the more memorable times during a turbulent period, but even that goal was comical when you boil it down.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League
A big waste of money.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images